What documents do you need to get a Driver’s License or ID Card in the U.S.?


To apply for a driver’s license or ID you must show documents proving your U.S. citizenship or lawful status to be in the United States. U.S. driver’s licenses or identification cards are available in Wisconsin as REAL ID-compliant and non-compliant, which have important differences detailed below.

In order to issue more consistent and secure driver’s licenses and IDs, the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 was made law, and most states have complied. U.S. citizens, lawful permanent and conditional residents, and in some cases lawful temporary visitors with original official documents (not photocopies) may apply to receive either a compliant or non-complaint ID.

The benefits of obtaining a REAL ID driver’s license or ID include being able to fly within the U.S., and the ability to visit military bases and federal buildings. Beginning October 1, 2020, only REAL ID-complaint versions of these documents will be enough on their own, while those with non-compliant documents will be required to present other acceptable forms of identification (e.g. passports).

To obtain a license or ID card, REAL ID-compliant or not, depends on your status and your documentation. If you are not a U.S. citizen you must submit legal presence documents every time when applying for a driver’s license, instruction permit, or ID.

The following is true for U.S. citizens, Lawful permanent/conditional permanent residents, and temporary visitors:

To apply for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license/ID card, you will need to present one of the following to prove legal status:

  • Valid U.S. passport or passport card

  • U.S. birth certificate or a consular report of birth abroad

  • If you obtained citizenship through adoption and you do not have a U.S. passport, provide proof of finalization of adoption and either: a foreign passport from country of birth (expired/current); or a permanent resident card from time of entry into the U.S.

  • I-551 permanent resident card issued by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (non-expired I-551s from 1977-1989 are accepted)

  • Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (N-560) or U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (N-550)

  • Unexpired foreign passport with a valid unexpired U.S. visa along with the most recent approved I-94 documentation

  • Unexpired employment authorization document (I-688B or I-766)

To apply for a non-REAL ID-compliant driver’s license/ID (marked “Not for Federal Purposes”), you may use any document from the list above OR one of the following to prove legal status:

  • Valid foreign passport along with appropriate immigration documents to determine legal presence and form I-94

  • Valid Temporary Residence ID (I-688)

  • Valid refugee travel documents (I-571)

  • Notice of Action (I-797) that indicates conclusive proof of legal presence along with supporting documents

  • Transportation Worker Identification Credential from the Dept. of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

  • Reception and placement program assurance form (refugee version) with I-94 record of arrival and departure

  • Documentary proof per Wisconsin Statute s.343.14(2)(er):

  1. Valid foreign passport (expired or nonexpired) with valid non-immigrant visa and I-94 with arrival & departure record

  2. Pending or approved application for asylum or temporary protected status in the U.S.

  3. Valid re-entry in the U.S. for refugee status I-327 or I-571

  4. Approved deferred status (including DACA) or pending application for adjustment of status to legal permanent resident or conditional status

For more details on the above and for information on how to apply for Real ID-compliant or noncompliant cards for commercial driver’s licenses or commercial learner’s permits, click on this link: https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/dmv/license-drvs/how-to-apply/citizen-leg-pres.aspx